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Exploring Southern Ontario

There’s no better time to begin planning your trip to Southern Ontario. With the U.S. dollar still strong, and a region that offers so much in terms of activities, food and accommodations, it’s a great time to explore and visit for a day, a weekend — or even longer. Here’s the nitty-gritty on just some of the possibilities across the river.

Shaw Festival

For an excursion that’s filled with drama of the best possible sort, revisit Niagara-on-the-Lake’s acclaimed Shaw Festival. A total of 11 plays on four stages run from now through October, along with countless related events and activities. Shaped by the innovative vision of the theater’s new artistic director, Tim Carroll, a number of this year’s productions will incorporate a two-way approach meant to forge deeper connections between the audience and the artists.

The wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake

Feel like you’re in Europe, if only for an afternoon, and while away the day at one of dozens of inviting wineries nestled in the pastoral landscape that gently rolls out below the Niagara Escarpment. Tour some of Canada’s most celebrated vineyards and sample award-winning wines, savor an unforgettable culinary immersion or catch a dazzling performance beside an orchard under the stars.

Niagara Sunset Cruises

For a totally different perspective of the mighty Niagara, enjoy a sunset cruise along the seven miles of the lower river that stretches between the Niagara Gorge and Lake Ontario. Board Niagara Sunset Cruises’ charming paddle wheel vessel and revel in panoramic views that include scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), historic forts, stately riverside homes and the unspoiled natural shoreline.

Ride an elevator down more than 200 feet, walk through a tunnel and emerge on this 1/4-mile boardwalk — the White Water Walk — adjacent to the Niagara River rapids. (Niagara Parks)

Niagara Parks Garden Trail

Running parallel to Niagara Parkway from Niagara Falls to NOTL, the trail is the place to stop and smell the roses…especially with one stop on the trail being the Botanical Gardens, with its formal rose garden that displays more than 2,500 hybrid teas, floribunda, grandiflora and climbers. Other trail attractions include the Floral Showhouse, a lush profusion of tropical plants and birds located steps from the Falls; the Butterfly Conservatory, where 2,000 butterflies flutter among exotic blossoms; the Cullen Miniature Village, a Southern Ontario-themed miniature attraction that showcases houses and trains that travel around the tiny buildings; and the infamous 15,000 plant, 13-yard wide Floral Clock located about six miles from the Falls. Also on the trail is a heritage herb and flower garden at the circa-1800 McFarland House, the headquarters for British officers during the War of 1812.

Niagara Helicopter

Consider the Falls from a new and totally awesome point of view when you take it to the next level aboard a Niagara Falls Scenic Flightseeing Tour. Twelve minutes in duration, (including boarding time) you can see as far as Toronto to the north and the shores of Lake Erie to the south. Watching the power of the mighty Falls unleashed from above is a sight that has to be seen to be appreciated.

Niagara Parks Commission

This summer, avail yourself of all kinds of cool activities offered at Niagara Parks that cost little or nothing but are oh-so-rewarding. Cycle the Niagara Parkway, a route Winston Churchill once called “the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world.”  Step back in time and follow the Heritage Trail, a scenic route that runs along the Niagara River, which reveals 100 plaques and monuments dedicated to people, places and events important to Canada’s past. Savor Sunday afternoon concerts at tranquil Queenston Heights Park. Groove to the sounds of big band, Dixie, blues and more at these family-friendly outdoor concerts.

Niagara Culinary Tour

Just the thing for those who relish a little good taste, this 3 ½ hour walking food tour led by a guide drops in on local eateries, where you can enjoy tasty food samples indicative of the area. Tours include all food and a craft brewery tour. All tastings are served with a side of the natural beauty of Niagara Falls. Niagara Culinary Tours.

A food tour of Southern Ontario

Award-winning Backhouse is focused on serving dishes made from local farm-fresh ingredients — including food the restaurant itself grows. (Elena Galey-Pride)

Certain to impress even the most avid foodie, you’ll delight in sampling the many delicious dining experiences in Southern Ontario. Home to hundreds of restaurants — from bustling mom-and-pop family eateries to hopping roadhouse-style joints to sublime farm-to-table establishments — there’s something for every taste.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Bistro Stasha

The place to sample home-style European cooking in the Falls, Bistro Stasha is all about quality and freshness. Relying primarily on locally-sourced ingredients, Stasha’s delicious selections change constantly depending on what ingredients are available on a given day. Make like a local and check out the day’s menu written on a chalk board displayed over the fireplace. (377 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, ON; Bistrostasha.com)

Casa Mia

This celebrated Niagara restaurant, owned by the Mollica family, has been serving quality cuisine under the supervision of matriarch and chef Luciana Mollica for the past 25 years.  A highly regarded gathering place for food lovers, diners appreciate the establishment’s creativity, flair and culinary artistry as reflected in its perfectly-portioned Italian dishes. Regulars swear it never fails to impress. It’s reasonably-priced, homemade Italian food — there really is a Nonna cooking in the kitchen. (3518 Portage Road, Niagara Falls, ON; Casamiaristorante.com)

Strada West Eat and Sip House

Owned by two brothers with deep roots in the Niagara Falls restaurant scene, Strada West is a locally-oriented restaurant that offers casual-style dining. In keeping with decades of family tradition, their food is totally prepared in-house including the pastas and sauces. The original burgers and sandwiches — made with bison meat, lamb, lobster and veal — are a much-enjoyed house specialty. (7805 Lundy’s Lane, Niagara Falls, ON; Stradawest.com)

Fenwick, Ontario

The Broken Gavel

A little bit off the beaten path but well worth the few extra miles to get to Fenwick (about 15 minutes northwest of Welland), this cozy family-owned pub offers a menu chock full of delicious comfort food. Check out the mouthwatering daily features which run the gamut from gourmet lobster macaroni to homemade ground chuck burgers with unique and flavorful toppings. Or head out on a weekend for delectable Prime Rib Sunday or brunch. (785 Canboro Rd., Fenwick; Thebrokengavel.com)

Niagara-on-the-Lake

Backhouse

A recent addition to NOTL‘s outstanding culinary scene, the fabulous Backhouse has garnered numerous awards and accolades including the coveted Enroute/Air Canada People’s Choice award winner for Best New Restaurant in Canada. The dynamic husband and wife ownership team has expanded upon the farm-to-table concept by integrating hands-on sustainable farming into their restaurant, growing some of their own food on the restaurant’s farm. Indulge in new Canadian cuisine expertly prepared over an open grill at this sophisticated eatery. (242 Mary St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; Backhouse.xyz)

Exchange Brewery

Conveniently located on Main Street in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake, this fantastic microbrewery takes beer sampling to the next level. With a welcoming décor that’s bright, modern and upscale, the focus remains on the fabulous brews. Knowledgeable staff is happy to explain the differences between types and share how they’re made, like how the amazing Late Harvest ale is made with baked apples and pumpkin. You can also enjoy Brewery Tours on the weekends. (7 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; Exchangebrewery.com)

Treadwell

An airy upscale space featuring an open kitchen, Treadwell has forged a reputation for exceptional culinary artistry.  Relying on the best artisan producers from the Niagara region to provide the finest ingredients, Treadwell’s inspired dishes are nothing short of other-worldly. The restaurant’s comprehensive Niagara-driven wine selections are complemented by a small but excellent selection of international offerings from smaller producers. (114 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; Treadwellcuisine.com)

Zees Grill

Directly across the street from the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, this modern bistro & bar prepares familiar favorites with a tasty twist. Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch or dinner, diners can soak up the sun on the dappled patio, grab a seat in the casual dining room or pull up a stool at the friendly bar. If you are a fan of mussels, you’ll appreciate this insider info…locals swear Zees’ are better than those served in Quebec City. (Shaw Club Hotel, 92 Picton St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; Zees.ca)

Make a trip of it: where to stay

Prince of Wales hotel.

Day-trip if you will, but since both Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake offer a plethora of incredible places to stay overnight — covering the spectrum from award-winning boutique hotels to charming B&Bs to urbane national chains — why not make a stay of it? Lose yourself in the sophistication of Niagara-on-the-Lake, or get a room with a view that’s just steps away from all the action at the Falls.

Niagara-on-the-lake

124 on Queen Hotel and Spa

This luxury boutique hotel offers the newest accommodations in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Immerse yourself in stylish surroundings and enjoy five diamond service sure to surpass expectations. Centrally located on Main Street and steps from all NOTL’s heritage and charm, the hotel offers a range of luxury accommodations  including deluxe rooms and multi bedroom villas. (124 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 124Queen.com)

Oban Inn

A Niagara landmark since 1824, this tranquil luxury four diamond boutique hotel, restaurant and spa overlooks Lake Ontario and a golf course. Building on the Inn’s well-established tradition of hospitality, the Oban’s spa is a celebrated wellness retreat dedicated to the well-being of its guests. Serene and peaceful, offering a true escape, the Oban Inn is the total package. (160 Front St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; Oban.com)

The Charles Hotel

Adjacent to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, this genteel hotel is a 1832 manor house that’s a short walk to the Shaw Festival and NOTL’s lovely heritage district. Guests enjoy tasteful, individually-decorated rooms that boast 4-poster or canopy beds, whirlpool tubs and private balcony access. Complementing the elegant ambience is a sophisticated restaurant and wine bar. (209 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; Niagarasfinest.com)

Prince of Wales

A perennial favorite, this sanctuary is situated in the heart of NOTL. You’re sure to feel like a true Royal as you relax amidst the extravagant period décor, partake of the restorative atmosphere of the Secret Garden Spa or indulge in a decadent sampling of the sublime cuisine of Escabèche, the airy glass-enclosed restaurant. (6 Picton St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; Vintage-hotels.com)

Best Western Plus Cairn Croft Hotel

Enjoy a calming stay at this beautiful resort-style property located on Lundy’s Lane in Niagara Falls. Book a room that suits your needs: for family fun, choose a room adjacent to the tropical courtyard, where the kids can swim and play all day. Or, up the romance for you and your special someone and reserve a suite in the tower. Enjoy an authentic taste of Ireland at Doc Magilligan’s Irish Pub, onsite, where you can choose from a huge selection brews, craft cocktails and live music. (6400 Lundy’s Lane, Niagara Falls, ON; Cairncroft.com)

Niagara Falls

Great Wolf Lodge

Adding a slick dimension to the family getaway, your pack will be living the suite life and howling with delight at this themed resort and indoor waterpark. Go all-in on family fun and swim, splash, and slide in 100,000 square feet of watery wonderland. Après waterpark, there’s a lot to do for kids of all ages with in-house activities, attractions, dining and shopping. (3950 Victoria Ave., Niagara Falls, ON; Greatwolf.com)

Marriott Fallsview Hotel & Spa

Claiming the enviable distinction of being the closest hotel to the main Horseshoe Falls, rest assured the view from your tasteful, contemporary room will mesmerize. In addition to the fabulous vista, consider a tranquil immersion at the Serenity Spa By The Falls, luxuriate in the expansive indoor pool or dine at the stellar Terrapin Grille Falls View Restaurant. (6740 Fallsview Blvd., Niagara Falls, ON; Marriott.com)

Old Stone Inn

Housed in a former flour mill dating from 1904, this upscale boutique hotel, conveniently located in the Entertainment District of Niagara Falls, melds classic elegance and historic character while still including all the modern amenities. Each room has been individually decorated and designed with guest comfort serving as the ultimate priority. If you lean towards warm, inviting and truly personal, this stylish boutique property is the place to stay. (6080 Fallsview Blvd., Niagara Falls, ON; Oldstoneinnhotel.com)

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